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Guest Viewpoints

The Greeks of Raleigh, NC

February 19, 2023
By Foti Jean-Pierre Fotiu

In 1895, Mr. Constantine Vurnakes departed his native city of Sparta, Greece. No one knew what brought Mr. Vurnakes to Raleigh; like so many other of his fellow citizens, he pursued the American dream, a dream which brought immigrants from all parts of Europe to discover a better life. Greeks were among the first immigrants who crossed the Atlantic to get their first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the customary landing and processing point for incoming immigrants from Europe. With great ambition, they brought varying degrees of introductory knowledge to the new world, for they were here to build their livelihoods. So why did Mr. Vurnakes come to a small southern town of only 13,000 people? We can assume that Raleigh offered a better climate, similar to what he was accustomed in Greece. Many other immigrants, with their families from New York and Chicago, made the journey and soon also arrived in Raleigh, NC.

According to the annals, Mr. Vurnakes was the proprietor of the California Fruit Stand near the state capital. Those early settlers became highly active in the Community but missed having a church in which to worship. Most early comers arrived without specific skills as we know today, primarily due to the lack of education in their homeland. Jobs were mainly found involving manual labor. With time, their ambition for a better life guided them to learn English and entrepreneurial skills. They turned to restaurants, candy making, tailoring, Vegetable stands, food markets, and cleaning establishments.

By 1924, the Greek families of Raleigh were yearning for their faith and decided the time had come to establish their church. The first service was held in April 1924 on the second floor of a grocery store. The church, or hall, as it was known then, was located on S. Salisbury Street.

The Greek community met on Salisbury Street for four years before moving again to an upstairs hall on South Blount Street, again over a small grocery store. As the community grew, it soon became apparent that a larger church was needed.

In October 1935, Rev. Elias Skipitary was challenged to organize and build a Church with the blessing of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America. By 1937 when the church was erected on Pearson Street, Raleigh had grown to a population of 25,000, and the church now numbered 25 families.

In May of 1975, a new church was built on Lead Mine Road of Raleigh to accommodate the growth of the incoming Orthodox parishioners.

Today, under the religious leadership of ‘Proistamenos’ Fr. Paul N. Christy, 400 family members worship and support the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church of Raleigh. The current facility space presents many accommodations constraints for the rapidly growing church membership, however.

The community’s plans are set in motion for a larger Church on the existing land, optimistically in the next two to three years. The Greek Orthodox faithful parishioners and many other non-Greek members of the Orthodox faith enthusiastically support this campaign. On Sunday, February 19, at the Marriott Hotel of Raleigh, 382 church members celebrated the official opening of the fundraising campaign for the new church building. For detailed information on the new church building campaign and contributions, please contact The Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, 5000 Lead Mine Rd. Raleigh, NC.

The Greek Orthodox church is the center of community life in the United States, and almost all dioceses, parishes, and churches are under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of America, an autonomous self-governing church within the sphere of influence of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and New Rome. The Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarch elects the archbishop, and the Ecumenical Patriarch remains the guiding light in all matters of faith. The Archdiocese was founded in 1922 and is located in New York City.

The Holy Trinity Church of Raleigh features a rich culture of customs and rituals passed down from generation to generation. The community’s pride is the orthodox religion, faith in God, the Greek language, traditions, Philoptochos, AHEPA, youth, and many other benevolent ministries. The tight-knit family structure, faith in God, and community love have been essential. As a result, many family traditions and celebratory religious events continue to thrive. A more accommodating church building will complete all of that.

More information about Holy Trinity Church in Raleigh is also available online: https://www.holytrinityraleigh.org.

 

Foti Fotiu was born in Constantinople in 1942. With part of his family, he immigrated first to Brussels, Belgium, then to the United States to Albany, New York in 1962. Fotiu served in the United States Army as a medical specialist at Fort Sam Houston in Texas. After an honorable discharge, he attended Hudson Valley Community College and for 25 years he served at the Administrative Director of the Department of Radiology at Bassett Healthcare Network in Cooperstown, NY. Fotiu remains active in the Greek Orthodox Church with his wife Theresa, and they reside in Raleigh, NC. He is also the author of two books, ‘Constantinople: The Beautiful City and the Destruction of its Greek, Armenian, and Jewish Ethnic Communities’ and ‘Confessions of an MI6 Agent’. More information is available online: https://fotifotiu.com.

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